a definition of alternative worship

A definition of alternative worship by Steve Collins 2005 (from www.alternativeworship.org )


  • Christians reinventing faith expression for themselves within their own cultural settings
  • a response to postmodern Western society and cultural change
  • faith expression within culture not in a parallel ‘Christian’ culture
  • reconsideration of all inherited church forms and structures, including recent modernising ones
  • rediscovery of ancient and alternative Christian traditions as resources for the present and future
  • paradigm shift from centralised into networked forms of church


  • not intended to transition people into existing forms of church
  • not an attempt to reach particular social or cultural groups
  • not about making Christianity appear cool or fashionable
  • not a restyling of existing forms and structures


  • beginning UK late 1980s
  • established Australia/New Zealand by mid 1990s
  • emerging in USA/Canada/Europe since 2000


  • a diverse network of individuals and small groups, practitioners and theorists
  • no single centre or authority
  • no single theological position or statement of beliefs but mostly within Christian orthodoxy
  • sometimes working within existing church structures, sometimes forming separate churches
  • crossing denominational and theological boundaries, even within single groups
  • high levels of friendship and exchange of ideas throughout movement
  • loose structures, little hierarchy
  • no fixed leadership or fixed roles
  • many of the people in positions of influence or leadership are not ordained or church employees


  • authenticity – faith expression that truly represents the people who make and take part in it
  • faith as journey, to be facilitated rather than controlled
  • giving people space for their own encounter with God
  • an exploration of creativity – in everyone, not just a gifted few
  • risk-taking, experimental – openness to failure and mistakes
  • holistic – life not divided into sacred and secular
  • any part of our lives and abilities as potential material for faith expression
  • participation – involvement encouraged, passive consumption discouraged
  • minimal exclusion – shaped by whoever gets involved
  • consensus – not one person imposing their direction
  • low threshold of permission – in general if you want to do something go ahead
  • high quality, as good as we can make it – culturally aware
  • awareness of ourselves as part of God’s creation, and a concern for its welfare
  • the entire expression of the faith community seen as ‘church’ not just one event
  • reluctance to draw boundaries that determine who or what is in or out of God’s kingdom
  • openness to God’s presence in any area of life or culture

How an event is made:

  • events generally planned around a chosen theme
  • everything that happens communicates aspects of theme
  • no fixed or obligatory elements
  • almost anything permitted if it communicates
  • shape of event worked out in group
  • individuals take pieces of the event to do
  • event comes together on the day without rehearsal, in accordance to the shape agreed during planning
  • high level of trust in people’s ability to deliver appropriate content
  • events not restricted to conventional church timetables or venues

What usually happens:

  • event led by many people not one or two
  • relaxed, informal
  • congregation are active participants
  • discussions – small groups or whole congregation
  • rituals and liturgies – ancient eg Holy Communion or newly created
  • moving around the space
  • interaction with installations and artworks
  • periods when people can do different things at the same time
  • learning by exploration and interaction, not located in a single ‘teaching’ slot

What usually doesn’t happen:

  • sermons or didactic teaching
  • sitting in one place all the time
  • worship bands, choirs or organs
  • one person at the front directing everything
  • Powerpoint presentations

New forms of church environment:

  • no pews or rows of seats
  • no pulpit
  • no stage
  • non-directional space – no front to face, things happen all around
  • soft seating, beanbags, sit or lie on floor
  • cafe spaces – chairs and tables, sofas, food and drink
  • intimate lighting – spotlights, candles, TVs, projections
  • installations and artworks
  • ambient music – as background to everything including speech and prayer
  • ambient video – relevant to event content but not attention-grabbing
  • creative use of available technology and media, including from home or work
  • technology and media used as environment or art as well as presentation tools
  • venue may not be existing church building